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Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
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Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)

Lake Placid

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
Lake Placid
signed ‘Frankenthaler’ (lower right); signed again, titled and dated '"Lake Placid" Frankenthaler '89' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
68 x 78 in. (172.7 x 198.1 cm.)
Painted in 1989.
Heath Gallery, Atlanta
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Saara Pritchard
Saara Pritchard

Lot Essay

“In making a painting, you have to allow for the awareness in you that is not fully conscious, allowing for the disorder or chaos that is not yet order, the kind of chaos sometimes expressed in dreams. Then consciously, you try to read the message. Having a dream, thinking about that dream, telling the dream, and discussing a subconscious, nonverbal way, then realize it through making a painting”
-Helen Frankenthaler

The ethereal washes of delicate color which Helen Frankenthaler orchestrates across the surface of this canvas embody her lifelong determination to pursue her own artistic path within the male dominated realm of Abstract Expressionism. While her unique expressive forms are the direct descendants of Jackson Pollock’s drips, unlike the forceful brushwork of her male counterparts, Frankenthaler’s motifs are much more fluid and harmonious, lending her work a rich and poetic quality. Comprised of vivid passages of blue, green and mauve, Lake Placid allows these colors to engage in a dialogue with each other and the air around them, responding to the movement of the eye as it glides across the surface of this monumental painting.

The full chromatic spectrum—and blue in particular—that Frankenthaler lays out across the surface of Lake Placid is matched only by the infinite nuances of the surface of the lake itself. Passages of the purest blue coexist next to ethereal washes of cyan, which disperse into threads of white. Through this shroud of color, bodies of green begin to emerge before seemingly receding before our very eyes. Along the extreme upper and lower edges of the canvas, this color intensity reaches a crescendo as striations of high-keyed color pigment frame the entire composition.

“Truth comes when one is totally involved in the act of painting... somehow using everything one knows about painting materials, dreams, and feelings. Consciously and unconsciously, the artist allows what must happen to happen. That act connects you to yourself and gives you hope... The painter makes something magical, spatial, and alive on a surface that is flat and with materials that are inert. That magic is what makes paintings unique and necessary” (H. Frankenthaler quoted in After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1950-59, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998, p. 46).                

Earlier in her career, during the 1960s, Frankenthaler began to incorporate a more literal sense of space into the assembled forms and condensed signs that filled her canvases. As a result, her work became as much a focus on the tension between the foreground and background, as it was about the shapes and colors that her pouring technique produced. The way she maneuvers the interlocking and overlaid planes of complementary colors as she examines ideas of depth and flatness recalls the Cubist period of Picasso and the unique style of Cézanne—two artists who were a great influence on her work. In 1957 Frankenthaler said, “Color can be beautiful in terms of how it moves; yet it remains in place. If color doesn’t move in space, it is only decorative” (H. Frankenthaler, quoted by J. Elderfield, Frankenthaler, New York, 1989, p.184). Here, this sense of drama comes into play as the green is deployed and seems to invade the space occupied by the blue, thus introducing a third color—a light mauve—as  the two pigments come into contact with each other and appear to tussle for supremacy.

The art critic Barbara Rose pronounced her great admiration for the artist’s particular gift for portraying the “freedom, spontaneity, openness and complexity of an image, not exclusively of the studio or the mind, but intimately tied to nature and human emotions” (B. Rose quoted in New York Times, 27 December 2011). Beautiful and powerful, with hues and shapes perfectly balanced, Lake Placid embodies a magical sense of impulsiveness and invites the viewer to lose themselves in its presence.

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